Can Social Work Help Save Democracy? Part I

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 @ 9:45AM

It becomes more evident as each day of the Trump Administration passes, that there is a deliberate and sustained attack aimed at the institutions of our democratic society. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller who was charged with investigating into Russia’s tampering in the 2016 Presidential election, has been under constant attack from the White House and members of Congress who would not mind overlooking any election tampering by Russians that could lead to findings of collusion by the President and his team. Mr. Trump has been constantly lambasting the media with cries of “fake news” while setting records for prevarication. The public is distracted by scandals about EPA chief Scott Pruitt and HUD secretary Ben Carson while their minions are hard at work revoking safety regulations and eviscerating fair housing laws.

The question of social work’s ability to help save democracy was posed as the title for our midday Social Work Day on the Hill event scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at the New York University Abramson Auditorium. Unfortunately, inclement weather led to the closing of the facility by the federal Office of Personnel Management. The event had been organized in the wake of the publication of Nancy MacLean’s controversial and revealing book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. In her book, a finalist for the National Book Award, the Duke historian meticulously chronicles the Libertarians’ quest for dominance in American politics and governance. For them, freedom means having the right to own as much as one can. That means paying as little taxes as one can and suppressing spending for those at the bottom by not letting the majority set the rules.

The forum was sponsored by the National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD) and featured a panel of deans led by NADD President Dr. Martell Teasley, dean at the School of Social Work at the University of Utah. He was joined on the panel by Dr. Marilyn Flynn, professor and dean at the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of South California, and Dr. Edwina Uehara, dean at the School of Social Work at the University of Washington in Seattle. The panel included Dr. MacLean and I was the moderator.

Although the weather and the federal government did not cooperate, we gathered at the Marriott Marquis Hotel and held the conversation without an audience. Dean Flynn graciously booked a conference room and Dean Uehara supplied lunch. The scheduled panel was joined by National Association of Social Workers (NASW) chief executive officer Dr. Angelo McClain and the inimitable Pat White, retired executive director of the Fund for Social Policy Education and Practice and program director for the New York Community Trust who chaired the planning committee for Social Work Day on the Hill. The discussion was intense and robust and is in the process of being transcribed to share with others.

We arrived at the conclusion that the social work profession has much to offer in the defense of democracy and that it is our obligation to be on the frontlines of fighting for a socially and economically just society. The challenge will be to provide an overarching vision of what that society would look like and ideas about how we can achieve the vision. We all left the meeting energized and challenged in the face of the tribalism that grips our nation today.

We are hearing very little from our elected leaders. Republicans were able to nudge the country further down the road to oligarchy with their latest round of tax cuts. The White House is already pushing to renege on the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill agreed to by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. The administration is expected to submit to Congress a list of budget rescissions that could be as high as $60 billion. They have not yet released the entire list however, you would only have to look at the proposed White House 2019 budget to get a good idea of what Mr. Trump would like to cut.

The President’s budget, submitted to Congress in February—less than two months after enacting massive tax cuts that largely benefits the wealthy—included more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicaid and health care subsidies for lower-income families, and it proposed $213 billion in cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamps over the next decade. The Trump budget plan proposed cutting the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 14.2 percent ($6.8 billion) which would severely reduce support for housing for low-income families. At the same time, he doesn’t seem bothered by the profligate spending of his cabinet members. Go figure.

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